TWIN FALLS, Idaho — The Twin Falls School District has been no stranger to staffing shortages this year, with teachers being out because of COVID-19 and other illnesses. Following the sudden school closures this past Friday, the district is trying to find ways to fill open positions.
Last week, the district had over 100 teachers and other staff out sick daily and had extreme difficulty finding coverage for all of the classrooms in need.
“It’s dropped a little bit this week," said Eva Craner, spokesperson for the Twin Falls School District. "But, we just don’t have the number of subs to cover all of those classrooms when we have that extreme amount of staff members, teachers in particular, who are out.”
South Hills Middle School is just one of the schools in the district that has been experiencing these shortages. This past week, they were averaging roughly 7 to 10 employees out per day.
Since there was limited coverage of classrooms, administrators, teachers, and other staff members had to take on multiple responsibilities.
“Our teachers were then combining classes as needed for advisories, we were all teaching different subjects that we maybe had no idea what to do," said Sara Praegitzer, principal for South Hills Middle School. "But based on the plans printed out, we did what we could.”
The challenge of getting people inside the classroom, specifically for teacher positions, is that multiple school districts across the Magic Valley are facing the same problem.
“Typically we share substitute teachers. Kimberly has many of the same substitute teachers we have here in Twin, as does Filer, as does Jerome," said Craner. "But when all of these school districts are experiencing large amounts of staff who are out sick, we’re all pulling from that same pool.”
To try and boost staffing numbers, South Hills Middle School has been attempting to reach out to parents.
“Our parents have been amazing here," said Praegitzer. "Supporting us, knowing what we’re going through, knowing what we’re facing every day, and they have been so patient. That’s all that we ask, is just the support and patience but otherwise, if they know anybody, they’re more than welcome to sub.”
The school district has also tried to fill open positions through community outreach and other pay incentives. Officials are even considering hosting another job fair-type event, but nothing is set in stone.
“We’ve just been trying to keep our schools open," said Craner. "So, that’s really been at the forefront of what every staff member has been focused on. In the coming weeks, we’re open to whatever might come about that would help fill those positions.”
The district was happy to see that there has been some response from the community following last week's numbers.
“We did see a number of applications come in to be substitute teachers last week," said Craner. "We were able to interview them early Monday. We have a great guest teacher coordinator who has jumped right in to get them in the classroom as early as possible.”
With about five months left in the school year and plenty of uncertainty, school leaders are looking to remain positive and keep their staff motivated.
“What we have to do is just be there for them. I don’t mind if I get burnt out, but I care if they get burnt out," said Praegitzer. So, if I can be here for them and let them know everything is going to be ok and that we’re going to survive and be stronger as a result of it, hopefully, it gets them through.”